Saturday, November 24, 2012

Metacognition, connectedness and the built environment

Just returned from a great walk with my colleagues Margarita Iglesia and Jim Newman. We visited the amazing site at Northpoint in preparation for our sustainability course in January. Riding my bike around the site before we met a few ideas crossed my mind. These had to do with metacognition and connectedness.

There has been a lot of talk about metacognition recently among educators.
Through metacognitive process we hope to encourage students to understand why they are learning what they are learning. Metacognition helps us deconstruct the learning process so we can come to understand how we learn what we learn. Potentially all of this leads to a more productive process of gaining and using knowledge.

Looking around Northpoint Park and its surroundings it's remarkable how geographically isolated it is from nearby neighborhoods. Yet the recent improvements in the park have led to very great connectivity between parts of the park and between neighborhoods on either side. Walking around the space you get a feeling not only of expansiveness but of connection with the built environment of the city. All this with surprising moments of visual intimacy.

The site is large and complex and as we walked we grappled with the problem of how to introduce it to the students. With its long history of multiple uses and the current iteration which suggests those uses, why not provide students with a series of historical maps and accompanying images to help with them contextualize the site. Then we thought we would be able to bring students to the site at least a couple of times for them to get their bearings and make observations. Finally, we hope to engage students with a set of questions that will help them frame their designs for the future of this built environment.

So in preparation for our course in January we exercised metacognition in planning how we will utilize the site with students. We also built in a metacognitive component for the students. By observing recording and analyzing the site they will gain a connection with the unfolding process of its development.

This on top of the fact that the Northpoint site is so connected in its design. In a built environment the feeling of connection seems so important. The same can be said for any intellectual model. By feeling connected, by understanding the context of a problem, and by participating in analysis of the problem, we come to understand the process of our understanding. This, I think, is the essence of metacognition.


  1. As someone who has been lucky enough to take that portion of the course, I can say that the site visit added a lot of richness to the project that wouldn't have been there otherwise. So many factors of the site would have never been done justice with just words and photos. The noises, the air, feeling the pleasant and unpleasant microclimates all helped inform our design choices. Walking between the site and the mall showed us the challenges of navigating traffic in the city while strolling through the NorthPoint Park demonstrated how much more enjoyable city life has the potential to be.

  2. Our site visits last week taught me that I really need to be intentional about the way I approach a new situation, concept, or subject. Checking in to say to myself: "what are the tools I need to implement in this context, and what are the best methods to process the new information?" really makes all the difference. It is not an easy thing to remember to do though; I certainly didn't approach the site visits last week as deliberately as I should have (even though we had been discussing learning tools for the past two and a half weeks!). At the end of the day, I had learned a lot, but I wanted a do-over because I also felt like I had missed a lot. Our discussions about how we learn, and why we learn it have been transformative in shaping my understanding how to approach a problem, a new concept, or a new situation and I will have to continue practicing these methods so I make it a routine of putting these tools to use.

  3. I believe that when working on creating a good solution for a problem or a site such as North Point it is essential for the designer/participants to become familiar with the site/problems and interact with it first-hand. In order to understand or comprehend a problem, one must engage and play with it until one establishes a certain kind of relationship with that factor, because only than does one feel in the right to pass judgement or suggestions for a good solution. "The solution is in the problem and the problem in the solution" is a good sum-up phrase. Had I not physically gone to North Point I would not have been able to neither design nor understand the group's decisions because I would have had zero first-hand exposure or knowledge of the site on which to base my judgement on.

  4. At the Intensive we looked over both sites in comparison to see which one appealed to us. We had Google Earth maps, development proposals, and general information of the areas. Some of us had already formed an idea of which one we wanted to work on but it took our trip out there to finalize our decision or change our minds. Experiencing the site and the surroundings first-hand was the defining moment of how most of us made that choice. I keep thinking of how easy it was to plot our ‘transit’ map on paper when we walked there. I keep wondering how great it would have been if the next day we rode bikes to the site, the following day we took the city bus, and the last day a car ride. We would then really have a feel for all transportation methods to the site. A different perspective each time and trying to connect them all. I will say that with what we observed and the limited time we had, we still found ways to connect them to the neighborhoods.

  5. Personally, I find it at times challenging to effectively observe a site, learn how the surrounding context relates to the site, as well as interpreting the endless amount of information that make up a certain area. I sometimes feel overwhelmed. I have a tendency to not always know where to begin when studying an existing site. Perhaps it is the lack of understanding my personal metacognition approach when evaluating a site.

    I feel that becoming consciously aware of metacognition and metacognitive approaches, I can begin to learn how I learn. This will allow me to effectively understand environmental, social, and economic information, which can be used when making design decisions. On a general sense, grasping metacognitive approaches can allow for effective advocacy for sustainable design solutions.

  6. I haven't thought much into the idea of metacognition and how to go about it, but I would like to believe it is a way of thinking that I've tried to base my life on. During the past few years I've been teaching myself to take a step back and understand that I don't understand or know everything, not only that but that I'm not meant to know everything. The start of this line of thinking began when I tried to eliminate hatred from my life. I no longer hate anyone or anything for that matter. I realize that I don't know everything that has to do with a person, a situation or anything. No matter how horrible someone, something, or some event has been I don't allow myself to hate.
    When relating metacognition to our group site I think it is a good idea to look into its history. The history would allow us a small glimpse into the why behind everything. Not just that, but when our group zoomed out to see the city around our site; we were able to see that this area was much larger than our assigned site and that it was important to take that into consideration. On a personal note with taking a step back, I'm not from the city and love nature, woods, lakes, rivers, and just being able to get away. To approach a site that's in a city I have to remove my biases and do what is best for the particular site, not what I would personally want.

  7. Metacognition "knowing that you know" is a complex outcome for me,however using the tools we've been provided in the last 3 weeks in design methods class I feel I'm on the right step to reach metacognition. Observing, documenting and analyzing will lead to defining the issue then solve it. It was amazing to apply these critical thinking methods on our sites visit, each one of them has unique features and issues, walking around, trying to observe, document, and asking all these questions connected me to the sites not only as a designer or a problem solver but as someone who wants to enjoy the outcome of these projects.

  8. I do believe that metacognition leads to a more productive process of understanding. Asking questions, so many questions, can actually lead you to the answer. I had never worked this way.. it was usually a quick explanation and get to work. The time that was spent asking all the questions was the time gained from redoing something that didn't go with what the project needed.
    I believe that visiting the site is a very important factor when it comes to a design proposal.. as I said before.. sit on the chair to know it is uncomfortable.. go to the site to see, feel, smell, hear everything that is going on.. and start asking right there, with everything seen and living it.